Review: 2015 Nissan Murano hits the mark

Auto review via @latimes: For good or ill, the Nissan Murano's styling sets it apart from any competitor

The burnt orange paint was a bad idea.

When Nissan first unveiled its all-new 2015 Murano at last year's New York Auto Show, the third-generation crossover was coated in an off-putting shade more fitting for baby food. The hue was a curious choice since the Murano has never needed help getting attention.

Since it was first introduced in 2002, this mid-size crossover has been a key oddball in the Nissan family. Its trademark take-it-or-leave-it styling has been as original as it is weird. Nissan even chopped the roof off the previous version to create the CrossCabriolet, a model that at least a dozen buyers thought was a good idea.

The look of the new 2015 Murano, for sale now, is no different.

But our test car's more subdued shade of steel blue (Nissan calls it Arctic Blue Metallic) made the crossover's strengths easier to see. And there are a lot of them; this is the best vehicle Nissan has made in years.

The Murano is a five-passenger crossover starting at $30,445, targeting mostly empty-nesters looking for a near-luxury hauler. Families with a tangle of kids and sippy cups will be better served by Nissan's larger three-row Pathfinder or compact Rogue.

Ford and Toyota take a similar two-pronged kids/no kids approach to their crossovers. And Nissan says many Murano buyers also consider the brisk-selling Lexus RX350 (a claim Nissan hopes will polish the Murano's luxury pedigree).

For good or ill, the Murano's styling sets it apart from any competitor.

Its face is awash in shapes and angles, with triangular headlights that split as they sweep up the Murano's fenders. Behind the rear doors, the roofline dips to nearly touch a peak in the quarter panel. At the rear, taillights resembling lobster claws reach around the corners. Tasteful dabs of chrome accent the crossover's many and various lines.

Overall, the 2015 edition looks more aggressive and edgy. While it may not age as well as something more sedate, it represents welcome risk-taking in an industry in which many automakers stamp out forgettable designs for fear of alienating buyers.

Inside, things are more traditional.

Nissan cleaned up the clutter by cutting the number of buttons from 25 to 10. Wood and metal trim add a premium feel. While the materials and construction don't quite match the Lexus, the Murano's quiet and comfort are above the standard for most Nissan products.

The rear seats pick up 2.5 inches of legroom. The cargo area grows by 8 cubic feet over the previous model.

We tested a loaded Platinum AWD model that weighed in at $43,745 with the addition of heated and cooled leather seats, an intuitive touch-screen navigation system, 20-inch alloy wheels, panoramic moon roof, radar cruise control, pre-collision braking and 360-degree parking camera.

Similar gear in the Lexus will run about $8,000 more, though Ford's upcoming Edge offers a similar value to the Nissan.

The fundamentals for the Murano remain unchanged for 2015. It still rides on a front-wheel-drive platform shared with the Altima and Maxima sedans, while all-wheel drive is optional.

A silky 260-horsepower V-6 is still matched with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Nissan has been using the CVT in its vehicles longer than most automakers, but it's also had more trouble building one that feels like a conventional automatic.

This revised version benefits mightily from some key hardware and software updates. It finally works like a CVT should, always keeping plenty of power on tap without making the engine drone loudly.

The V-6 is plenty strong, especially since Nissan trimmed about 138 pounds off the older Murano by using more high-strength steel.

This also helps boost fuel economy by about 20%. The all-wheel-drive model we tested was rated at 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. We averaged 25 mpg in a week of mostly highway miles.

The only real complaints are numb steering and dashboard buttons that could use more backlighting.

But Nissan got this one right — and it needed to. The mid-size SUV segment could grow substantially in the next few years, and rivals like Ford's redesigned Edge will hit the market soon.

With bold styling, heaps of comfort and newfound efficiency, the 2015 Murano will be tough to beat. Nissan should take care not to hide its virtues behind baby-food orange paint.

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